Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day

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Route 12: Ridgeway: Swindon to Goring

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Summary Go West on the train to Swindon and ascend to Barbury Castle to start this roller coaster ride along the Ridgeway, which visits 4 hill forts, a burial chamber and a White Horse. Big skies, expansive vistas, ancient sites await along one of England’s finest National Trails, best done on a fine day in summer when the chalk track is hard baked and the wild flowers are at their best.

Distance/time: Approx 45 miles. It took me around 8 hours cycling, including breaks to view the various sites.
Start:Swindon station, reached by taking the train from Guildford to Reading, then changing to the main line for the intercity train to Swindon. Bikes are usually carried in the guard’s van which is the first car behind the engine. Typical time Guildford-Swindon is 90 minutes.
Finish: Goring station. Catch the local train back to Reading, then Reading-Guildford.

Conditions under the tyre: The surface of the Ridgeway track has a mix of surfaces: chalk, grass, gravel or dirt. Parts can be quite heavily rutted by farm vehicles, especially the trail along the ridge to Liddington Castle; it is easy to catch your pedals on the sides of these deep ruts so go very carefully. After (or during) rain, the track will inevitably be muddy. In particular, the otherwise hard chalk surfaces turn to a sort of slippery ooze: proceed very carefully in such conditions especially at high speed downhill.

A mountain bike is pretty well essential for this ride. If you are new to off-road riding, proceed with extra care.

As the name Ridgeway suggests, you’re in for quite a hilly ride, with several ups and downs: about 3200ft of ascent and 3400ft of descent. There is quite a stiff climb up to Barbury Castle from Swindon centre, and from the A346 crossing to the Liddington Castle ridge. The ascent from the M4 crossing to Uffington Castle is reasonably long and therefore gentle.

Reverse route: I describe the ride from West to East, to make the most of the prevailing westerly winds. With an Easterly, it is easy to reverse the route: the ups and downs more or less cancel out. You will need to vary the route close to Swindon station to allow for one-way roads.
Route variations: You could drive and park at several car parks along the route (eg Barbury Castle or Bury Lane) and using the train to complete a circuit, but note you can only reach Didcot or Reading direct from Swindon. Goring can only be reached via Reading. For example, you could park at Bury Lane, ride to Barbury Castle, descend to Swindon, get the train back to Didcot, cycle via the disused railway to Upton, then bridleways back to Bury Lane.

If you are short of time, you could cycle up to admire the view from Barbury Castle, but then omit the Liddington Castle ‘horseshoe’ by retracing your steps slightly and picking up National Cycle Route 45 which slices NE across the hillside on tracks and lanes to cross the A346 just south of Chiseldon, and onward to meet the main route where it crosses the M4.
Route description:
Follow the Google map at the top of this page: it can be viewed full size in a separate browser.
  • Exit Swindon Station and make your way South out of town: Wellington Street, Milford Street, Fleming Way, Princes Street, Victoria Road, A361 Devizes Road, over the M4.
  • In Wroughton, at a roundabout, take the B4005 South, then right on a minor road (“The Pitchens”), then immediately left on Baker’s Road.
  • At the village car park, head straight on up Prior’s Hill, and climb steeply out of the village into open country, passing the old Wroughton airfield buildings and runway on your right. Continue climbing till on the left you reach the bridleway signed up a grassy slope to Barbury Castle, whose ramparts can easily be seen.
  • Pass through the gate and push up the hill to enter the circular area enclosed by the ramparts. Climb the ramparts on foot to explore and admire the view. Ride on through the circle and carry on to the car park (there are toilets).
  • Exit the car park and turn right on the lane. Soon, the Ridgeway is signed through gates to the left. Descend on the delightful grassy track for about 1.3 miles. Where the hills rise up in front, bear left (no sign) on an obvious track contouring roughly E, to enter a lane.
  • Meet and turn right (S) on tarmac lane for short way, and where this bears sharp left carry straight on a track signed the Ridgeway. This soon turns sharp left to descend to the A346.
  • Cross the A346 (CARE) and enter the lane directly opposite. Climb, pass under a disused railway bridge, cross a tarmac lane and rise to reach a ‘crossroads’ where the Ridgeway is signed heading slightly E of N. The track here is deeply rutted and muddy after rain for the next few hundred yards (CARE) but soon evens out again.
  • After about three quarters of a mile, reach another tarmac lane. Turn left and reach a crossing road. Carry straight on N. The path emerges to follow the edge of open fields and gets quite rough again, with the ramparts of Liddington Castle visible on the skyline to your left. After about 2.75 miles you reach a gate, where a sign indicates a permissive path to Liddington Castle. Divert to visit on foot, then continue through the gate and descend to the B4192.
  • Turn left on the B4192, then very soon right to pass over the M4. Carry straight on at a cross roads, then bear right signed the Ridgeway into a car park. From here, the trackway is easy to follow, and is well signed. Shortly after crossing the B4000 you reach Wayland Smithy burial chamber, clearly signed in a clump of trees to your left.
  • National Trust signs indicate when you have reached White Horse Hill. Carry on to the summit, where a gate gives access for a bridleway across a meadow to the ordnance pillar on the ramparts of Uffington Castle (don’t ride on the ramparts). A short way further north over the edge of the ridge brings you to the White Horse itself, situated in a dramatic ‘bowl’.
  • Having crossed the B4001, look out for the Devil’s Punchbowl, a deep valley cutting into the slope. A bit further on, you reach the buildings of Segsbury Farm on the right. Immediately opposite, a track leads after a few yards to a style giving access to inspect the ramparts of Segsbury Castle on foot.
  • At the A338, either carry straight on along the trackway, or, for refreshments divert north along the road to Court Hill Centre a few hundred yards down the hill on the left (look out for signs placed at the Ridgeway junction). A track opposite the turn-off gives access back up to the Ridgeway.
  • Cross the B4494, soon passing the Crimea Monument, and onward through Bury Lane Car Park, across Bury Lane and under the A34 via a tunnel. The final stretch of the route has several junctions and crossing tracks, but the way is well signed at each decision point. Finally you should end up in a long and well-earned descent on tarmacked Rectory Road, to join the A417, where head right (S), then shortly left at the Streatley traffic lights. Cross the two bridges over the Thames, carry on up Goring High Street, cross the railway bridge and turn right to arrive triumphantly at Goring Station.
Other than facilities in Swindon and Goring, the only establishment near the route is the Court Hill Centre on the A338. This former Youth Hostel is now run as a private centre. It has a very welcome tea room which does snacks at lunchtime, and tea with the usual trimmings at tea time. It is usually open till 5pm in summer: check web site . Otherwise best take some sandwiches and enjoy them at some lofty al fresco perch.

Points of Interest On the way up to Barbury Castle, you pass the disused RAF Wroughton airfield. Since the 1970s, the hangars have housed The Science Museum collection of “big objects” , for example the last operational printing press in Fleet Street.

The Ridgeway National Trail runs a total of 87 miles from Overton Hill near Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. It follows the paths of numerous trackways used by drovers, traders and warriors, linking Devon with the Wash. This ride is along the more open downland of the section West of Goring. Although the range of hills is known as the Berkshire Downs, boundary changes mean this ride actually passes through the borough of Swindon, and the counties of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. The stretch to the East of Goring is through the more enclosed scenery of the Chilterns, little of which is open to cyclists.

The ride passes through one Hill Fort (Barbury Castle) and near three others (from the West) Liddington, Uffington and Segsbury. These date from the Iron Age, and show signs of occupation from around 500BC until Saxon times. All have ramparts and ditches (Barbury has a double ditch) enclosing a large circular area. Barbury and Uffington are accessible from nearby car parks and hence receive many visitors, whereas Segsbury and (especially) Liddington are more off the beaten track.

Situated overlooking a distinctive dry valley (called ‘the Manger’) N of Uffington Castle, the iconic Uffington White Horse is visible from afar from the plains below, though is not so easily seen close up. Recent scientific dating of soil from the foundation of the figure indicates an age of around 3000 years. In the valley below is the flat topped Dragon Hill mound, said to be where St George slayed the dragon.

Wayland’s Smithy is a Neolithic chambered long barrow located in a clump of trees accessed by a short path off the Ridgeway. Its name, used in Saxon documents, refers to the Saxon smith-god Wayland, but the monument is much older than Saxon times. Excavations carried out in the 1960s discovered 14 skeletons in the original inner structure, and recent radiocarbon dating indicates an age of c3500BC. The original structure was subsequently (c 3400BC) covered by a trapezoidal mound with large Sarsen stones at the entrance.

Just East of the B4494 is the Lindsay monument a column to the memory of Robert Loyd Lindsay, Baron Wantage (1832-1901), erected by his wife in 1901. It refers to his service in the Crimean War, where he won a VC at the Battle of the Alma.

Visible at the foot of the downs to the North of Bury Lane Car Park is a complex consisting of Harwell Oxford, a “science, innovation and business campus based in South Oxfordshire at the heart of Science Vale UK”, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which includes the Diamond light source – in the big shiny circular building – which is the UK's synchrotron facility, producing a powerful light beam which is used to probe the structure of matter.

Finding your way
As well as my Google Map, the route is covered by OS Landranger 1:50K Map sheets 173 (Swindon and Devizes), 174 (Newbury and Wantage) and (for just the very last few yards to Goring Station) 175 (Reading and Windsor), and OS Explorer 1:25K map sheets 169 (Cirencester & Swindon), 157 (Marlborough & Savernake Forest) 170m (Abingdon, Wantage & Vale of White Horse). You might find it useful to print out a street level map of the route out of Swindon. Once you reach the Ridgeway at Barbury Castle, the trackway is pretty obvious and very well signed at most decision points. The trackway East of the A34 has several junctions and crossing tracks, but the way is well signed at each decision point.
Photo guide

Bike Carriage on Swindon Intercity Train

Cottages in Baker's Road, Wroughton

Wroughton Airfield Hangars (now used as a store by the Science Museum)

Road up to Barbury Castle (on left)

Gate to Barbury Castle

Panorama at Barbury Castle

Rampart and ditch at Barbury Castle

Descent East from Barbury Castle

Ridgeway descending from Barbury

Typical (excellent) Ridgeway signing

Rutted Ridgeway

Grassy stretch of Ridgeway heading towards Liddington Castle

At Liddington Castle

Typical Ridgeway near Wayland's Smithy

Wayland's Smithy

Wayland's Smithy

Ridgeway (Uffington Castle on horizon)

On Uffington Castle

Uffington White Horse with Dragon's Hill

Ridgeway East of Uffington Castle

Devil's Punchbowl

Segsbury Castle

Dazzling Ridgeway

Court Hill Centre

Lindsay Monument

Harwell/Rutherford Appleton Lab

A34 Tunnel

The final uphill before Goring

Goring Lock